The Cup race at Indianapolis featured some exciting moments, but also a lot of crashes, while the XFINITY Series tried a race package that included restrictor plates and air ducts in the front of the cars. Did the lower series put on the better show, and should Cup consider using the same package next year?
Michael Massie: Cup should definitely use the air ducts and restrictor plates, and then some. The leader never broke out to a huge lead in the NXS race, but the rest of the field could still stand to have more help from the draft. Until NASCAR gets rid of the overall clean air problem in its next car design, this is the way to go to make the racing better.
Amy Henderson: I was pleasantly surprised that the package worked, but it did, and it’s worth a try with the Cup cars. Personally, I think the best option would be to race somewhere else and not waste a date on a track that is a terrible fit for stock cars, but since that won’t happen, anything would help at this point. I actually wonder if a similar package would be beneficial at Michigan as well, or even Pocono, the other big, flat tracks.
Samarth Kanal: The XFINITY Series put on a far better show than the following MENCS race, with passing, strategy plays and a potent draft which didn’t let the leader run away. However, the Cup race was tainted by bad weather and bad light, and of course that late flurry of cautions which set up a hasty, controversial finish. Would restrictor plates and the new aero package have fixed that? No. But it’s worth a try for next year – in case we actually have more than 10 consecutive laps of clean racing – because nobody wants to see another runaway Indy win.
Silly Season heated up this week, with more teams and drivers announcing moves and more still up in the air. Which driver change has the potential to make the biggest impact?
Henderson: When all is said and done, I’m going to say that Team Penske expanding and moving Ryan Blaney in-house will have the biggest impact, not because of how they have the potential to perform, but because it sets so much in motion. Wood Brothers gets solid sponsorship, even if Paul Menard isn’t going to set the world on fire. That move has the potential to move Ty Dillon into the RCR fold and could even determine the fate of Germain Racing if RCR poaches GEICO. If that doesn’t happen, a seat is open in the No. 13. The No. 21 leased a charter this year, which will return to its original owner in a cascade of other moves. So while the No. 21 itself isn’t the big story with Menard’s signing, it’s at the epicenter of what could be a very explosive next few weeks.
Kanal: Alex Bowman‘s soon-to-start tenure in the 88 sparks a new era for Hendrick Motorsports with a duo of young, exciting and talented drivers as Bowman pairs with Chase Elliott for 2018. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s hand-picked protege has been given the time to mature and should be a contender next season for a win. But beyond that, we’re looking at an institution – he has the backing of Earnhardt and the power to sway the JR Nation towards him – which has defined NASCAR’s storylines for more than a decade. Bowman has a lot of weight on his shoulders, on and off the track, and 2018 will be a crucial year for both him and NASCAR itself.
Massie: Brad Keselowski basically just signed a lifetime contract with Team Penske (I heard through 2028), and I think it will do wonders for Keselowski to remain with the same team for basically his entire Cup career. He has never been the most popular driver, but many fans will respect him more when they see him stay with the same team for years to come. That is something many always respected about athletes like Derek Jeter and Tom Brady. It will show that he and Roger Penske are loyal to each other. Additionally, Keselowski has the opportunity to leave a legacy as the greatest driver to ever race a Penske Cup car. He has already won the team’s only championship. If he keeps up his winning ways then he could break most of Rusty Wallace’s team records (just not 10 wins in a season). When people think of Team Penske, they will think of Keselowski.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will join the NBC broadcast team in 2018. What role would you like to see him play during the race broadcasts?
Kanal: As we saw during the Pocono XFINITY race, drivers should be interviewing their peers more often. Earnhardt has the power to light up post-race interviews, provide insight track-side and offer his own, endearing sense of humour to NBC’s current offering. I’d like to see him take a roaming role up close with the drivers and cars, not perched up in the booth for 2018.
Massie: I am happy with whatever he does under three conditions: 1. He does not replace Jeff Burton. The South Boston, Va. native might be the best former driver commentator in all of NASCAR right now. 2. He does not replace Steve Letarte. You need a crew chief and a driver in the booth, not two drivers. I’m looking at you, FOX. 3. He does not become the fourth guy in the booth. Three is the perfect amount. Anymore and it will sound like a school cafeteria. Earnhardt should get Rutledge Wood’s job. He would be way less annoying at that.
Henderson: I agree completely with the above. I’d hate to see a change in the booth for Cup races, and having him there for XFINITY races sets up a conflict of interest. I think he’d be great in a role similar to what Kenny Wallace plays at FOX, doing in-depth interviews and features and having a big role in the pre-race show. Dale Jr. is well-spoken and personable, and I feel like he could ask meaningful questions and get meaningful answers because of this.
This weekend’s race at Pocono will be the first time that the Cup teams qualify on Sunday morning before the race in the afternoon. Will adding the qualifying sessions on Sunday be a way to draw fans to the track as they get more with their ticket, or do they stand to lose more by not offering anything on Friday?
Massie: When I went to races at Richmond Raceway as a kid, I always remember being bummed out that there was nothing going on at the track on Cup’s race day other than the race itself. There was really no reason to come to the track until the race started. It might
have been a better experience had qualifying happened earlier that day. Granted, those were night races, so I am not sure if same-day qualifying would work for an afternoon race, but I definitely think NASCAR should do it for night races. NASCAR wants all of its afternoon races to become evening races anyways, and qualifying does not matter anymore with less than 40 cars showing up, so we may as well have qualifying earlier in the day for most of the races.
Henderson: I think qualifying on Sunday is a terrible idea. I’m not a fan of two-day race weekends to begin with because fans who do travel and camp at the track or stay nearby are getting fewer days of enjoyment. Plus, having qualifying Sunday gives NASCAR an excuse to keep these ridiculous late start times that just about everyone dislikes and which may also have a negative impact on attendance since now if you live more than an hour from the track, you’re getting home at zero dark thirty. Go back to earlier start times, hold qualifying Friday, and find another form of entertainment for fans Sunday morning if people watching and shopping isn’t enough. Part of the fun of a race weekend has always been three days baking in the sun in the bleachers, watching cars go around and enjoying good friends and good times.
Kanal: Adding more Cup sessions would be a huge help. If we take Formula 1, for example, running a practice session before the Saturday qualifying session helps bring people down to the track early, sowing the seeds for the day’s buzzing atmosphere. F1 also runs feeder series races on the same day which generates even more interest. Tracks stand to lose more if they can’t bring people in on race day. Sponsors and broadcasters can see the empty seats and it just doesn’t sit well for anybody to see vacant stands. Furthermore, people need value for money nowadays, and it’s hard to captivate anybody by spreading out a race weekend as thinly as possible. Give people a proper product and the stands should fill a bit more, and that can only be good.